Good Luck to Malaysia: UMNO’s Future Leaders

June  25, 2015

Good  Luck to Malaysia: UMNO’s Future Leaders

Muka Harapan UMNONo Meritocracy, Yes Kleptocracy

If this is not a rogues’ gallery, what else can it be. You need to be a loyal Najib supporter to make it in Malaysia; there is no hope for the rest of us.  These characters can clean up the coffers of their respective organisations in the name of “membela nasib orang Melayu”. So good luck my beautiful Malaysia. I cry for you, although Argentinians won’t cry for Evita Peron.–Din Merican

Karen Armstrong: My Charter for Compassion

May 7, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Karen Armstrong: My Charter for Compassion

Well, this is such an honor. And it’s wonderful to be in the presence of an organization that is really making a difference in the world. And I’m intensely grateful for the opportunity to speak to you today.

And I’m also rather surprised, because when I look back on my life the last thing I ever wanted to do was write, or be in any way involved in religion. After I left my convent, I’d finished with religion, frankly. I thought that was it. And for 13 years I kept clear of it. I wanted to be an English literature professor. And I certainly didn’t even want to be a writer, particularly. But then I suffered a series of career catastrophes, one after the other, and finally found myself in television. (Laughter) I said that to Bill Moyers, and he said, “Oh, we take anybody.” (Laughter)

Karen ArmstrongAnd I was doing some rather controversial religious programs. This went down very well in the U.K., where religion is extremely unpopular. And so, for once, for the only time in my life, I was finally in the mainstream. But I got sent to Jerusalem to make a film about early Christianity. And there, for the first time, I encountered the other religious traditions: Judaism and Islam, the sister religions of Christianity. And while I found I knew nothing about these faiths at all — despite my own intensely religious background, I’d seen Judaism only as a kind of prelude to Christianity, and I knew nothing about Islam at all.

But in that city, that tortured city, where you see the three faiths jostling so uneasily together, you also become aware of the profound connection between them. And it has been the study of other religious traditions that brought me back to a sense of what religion can be, and actually enabled me to look at my own faith in a different light.

And I found some astonishing things in the course of my study that had never occurred to me. Frankly, in the days when I thought I’d had it with religion, I just found the whole thing absolutely incredible. These doctrines seemed unproven, abstract. And to my astonishment, when I began seriously studying other traditions, I began to realize that belief — which we make such a fuss about today — is only a very recent religious enthusiasm that surfaced only in the West, in about the 17th century. The word “belief” itself originally meant to love, to prize, to hold dear. In the 17th century, it narrowed its focus, for reasons that I’m exploring in a book I’m writing at the moment, to include — to mean an intellectual assent to a set of propositions, a credo. “I believe:” it did not mean, “I accept certain creedal articles of faith.” It meant: “I commit myself. I engage myself.” Indeed, some of the world traditions think very little of religious orthodoxy. In the Quran, religious opinion — religious orthodoxy — is dismissed as “zanna:” self-indulgent guesswork about matters that nobody can be certain of one way or the other, but which makes people quarrelsome and stupidly sectarian. (Laughter)

So if religion is not about believing things, what is it about? What I’ve found, across the board, is that religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you do something. You behave in a committed way, and then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action; you only understand them when you put them into practice.

Now, pride of place in this practice is given to compassion. And it is an arresting fact that right across the board, in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion — the ability to feel with the other in the way we’ve been thinking about this evening — is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call “God” or the “Divine.” It is compassion, says the Buddha, which brings you to Nirvana. Why? Because in compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we’re ready to see the Divine.

And in particular, every single one of the major world traditions has highlighted — has said — and put at the core of their tradition what’s become known as the Golden Rule. First propounded by Confucius five centuries before Christ: “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.” That, he said, was the central thread which ran through all his teaching and that his disciples should put into practice all day and every day. And it was — the Golden Rule would bring them to the transcendent value that he called “ren,” human-heartedness, which was a transcendent experience in itself.

And this is absolutely crucial to the monotheisms, too. There’s a famous story about the great rabbi, Hillel, the older contemporary of Jesus. A pagan came to him and offered to convert to Judaism if the rabbi could recite the whole of Jewish teaching while he stood on one leg. Hillel stood on one leg and said, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the Torah. The rest is commentary. Go and study it.” (Laughter)

And “go and study it” was what he meant. He said, “In your exegesis, you must make it clear that every single verse of the Torah is a commentary, a gloss upon the Golden Rule.” The great Rabbi Meir said that any interpretation of Scripture which led to hatred and disdain, or contempt of other people — any people whatsoever — was illegitimate.

Saint Augustine made exactly the same point. Scripture, he says, “teaches nothing but charity, and we must not leave an interpretation of Scripture until we have found a compassionate interpretation of it.” And this struggle to find compassion in some of these rather rebarbative texts is a good dress rehearsal for doing the same in ordinary life. (Applause)

But now look at our world. And we are living in a world that is — where religion has been hijacked. Where terrorists cite Quranic verses to justify their atrocities. Where instead of taking Jesus’ words, “Love your enemies. Don’t judge others,” we have the spectacle of Christians endlessly judging other people, endlessly using Scripture as a way of arguing with other people, putting other people down. Throughout the ages, religion has been used to oppress others, and this is because of human ego, human greed. We have a talent as a species for messing up wonderful things.

So the traditions also insisted — and this is an important point, I think — that you could not and must not confine your compassion to your own group: your own nation, your own co-religionists, your own fellow countrymen. You must have what one of the Chinese sages called “jian ai”: concern for everybody. Love your enemies. Honor the stranger. We formed you, says the Quran, into tribes and nations so that you may know one another.

And this, again — this universal outreach — is getting subdued in the strident use of religion — abuse of religion — for nefarious gains. Now, I’ve lost count of the number of taxi drivers who, when I say to them what I do for a living, inform me that religion has been the cause of all the major world wars in history. Wrong. The causes of our present woes are political.

But, make no mistake about it, religion is a kind of fault line, and when a conflict gets ingrained in a region, religion can get sucked in and become part of the problem. Our modernity has been exceedingly violent. Between 1914 and 1945, 70 million people died in Europe alone as a result of armed conflict. And so many of our institutions, even football, which used to be a pleasant pastime, now causes riots where people even die. And it’s not surprising that religion, too, has been affected by this violent ethos.

There’s also a great deal, I think, of religious illiteracy around. People seem to think, now equate religious faith with believing things. As though that — we call religious people often believers, as though that were the main thing that they do. And very often, secondary goals get pushed into the first place, in place of compassion and the Golden Rule. Because the Golden Rule is difficult. I sometimes — when I’m speaking to congregations about compassion, I sometimes see a mutinous expression crossing some of their faces because a lot of religious people prefer to be right, rather than compassionate. (Laughter)

Now — but that’s not the whole story. Since September the 11th, when my work on Islam suddenly propelled me into public life, in a way that I’d never imagined, I’ve been able to sort of go all over the world, and finding, everywhere I go, a yearning for change. I’ve just come back from Pakistan, where literally thousands of people came to my lectures, because they were yearning, first of all, to hear a friendly Western voice. And especially the young people were coming. And were asking me — the young people were saying, “What can we do? What can we do to change things?” And my hosts in Pakistan said, “Look, don’t be too polite to us. Tell us where we’re going wrong. Let’s talk together about where religion is failing.”

Because it seems to me that with — our current situation is so serious at the moment that any ideology that doesn’t promote a sense of global understanding and global appreciation of each other is failing the test of the time. And religion, with its wide following … Here in the United States, people may be being religious in a different way, as a report has just shown — but they still want to be religious. It’s only Western Europe that has retained its secularism, which is now beginning to look rather endearingly old-fashioned.

But people want to be religious, and religion should be made to be a force for harmony in the world, which it can and should be — because of the Golden Rule. “Do not do to others what you would not have them do to you”: an ethos that should now be applied globally. We should not treat other nations as we would not wish to be treated ourselves.

And these — whatever our wretched beliefs — is a religious matter, it’s a spiritual matter. It’s a profound moral matter that engages and should engage us all. And as I say, there is a hunger for change out there. Here in the United States, I think you see it in this election campaign: a longing for change. And people in churches all over and mosques all over this continent after September the 11th, coming together locally to create networks of understanding. With the mosque, with the synagogue, saying, “We must start to speak to one another.” I think it’s time that we moved beyond the idea of toleration and move toward appreciation of the other.

I’d — there’s one story I’d just like to mention. This comes from “The Iliad.” But it tells you what this spirituality should be. You know the story of “The Iliad,” the 10-year war between Greece and Troy. In one incident, Achilles, the famous warrior of Greece, takes his troops out of the war, and the whole war effort suffers. And in the course of the ensuing muddle, his beloved friend, Patroclus, is killed — and killed in single combat by one of the Trojan princes, Hector. And Achilles goes mad with grief and rage and revenge, and he mutilates the body. He kills Hector, he mutilates his body and then he refuses to give the body back for burial to the family, which means that, in Greek ethos, Hector’s soul will wander eternally, lost. And then one night, Priam, king of Troy, an old man, comes into the Greek camp incognito, makes his way to Achilles’ tent to ask for the body of his son. And everybody is shocked when the old man takes off his head covering and shows himself. And Achilles looks at him and thinks of his father. And he starts to weep. And Priam looks at the man who has murdered so many of his sons, and he, too, starts to weep. And the sound of their weeping filled the house. The Greeks believed that weeping together created a bond between people. And then Achilles takes the body of Hector, he hands it very tenderly to the father, and the two men look at each other, and see each other as divine.

That is the ethos found, too, in all the religions. It’s what is meant by overcoming the horror that we feel when we are under threat of our enemies, and beginning to appreciate the other. It’s of great importance that the word for “holy” in Hebrew, applied to God, is “Kadosh”: separate, other. And it is often, perhaps, the very otherness of our enemies which can give us intimations of that utterly mysterious transcendence which is God.

And now, here’s my wish: I wish that you would help with the creation, launch and propagation of a Charter for Compassion, crafted by a group of inspirational thinkers from the three Abrahamic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and based on the fundamental principle of the Golden Rule. We need to create a movement among all these people that I meet in my travels — you probably meet, too — who want to join up, in some way, and reclaim their faith, which they feel, as I say, has been hijacked. We need to empower people to remember the compassionate ethos, and to give guidelines. This Charter would not be a massive document. I’d like to see it — to give guidelines as to how to interpret the Scriptures, these texts that are being abused. Remember what the rabbis and what Augustine said about how Scripture should be governed by the principle of charity. Let’s get back to that. And the idea, too, of Jews, Christians and Muslims — these traditions now so often at loggerheads — working together to create a document which we hope will be signed by a thousand, at least, of major religious leaders from all the traditions of the world.

And you are the people. I’m just a solitary scholar. Despite the idea that I love a good time, which I was rather amazed to see coming up on me — I actually spend a great deal of time alone, studying, and I’m not very — you’re the people with media knowledge to explain to me how we can get this to everybody, everybody on the planet. I’ve had some preliminary talks, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, is very happy to give his name to this, as is Imam Feisal Rauf, the Imam in New York City. Also, I would be working with the Alliance of Civilizations at the United Nations. I was part of that United Nations initiative called the Alliance of Civilizations, which was asked by Kofi Annan to diagnose the causes of extremism, and to give practical guidelines to member states about how to avoid the escalation of further extremism.

And the Alliance has told me that they are very happy to work with it. The importance of this is that this is — I can see some of you starting to look worried, because you think it’s a slow and cumbersome body — but what the United Nations can do is give us some neutrality, so that this isn’t seen as a Western or a Christian initiative, but that it’s coming, as it were, from the United Nations, from the world — who would help with the sort of bureaucracy of this.

And so I do urge you to join me in making — in this charter — to building this charter, launching it and propagating it so that it becomes — I’d like to see it in every college, every church, every mosque, every synagogue in the world, so that people can look at their tradition, reclaim it, and make religion a source of peace in the world, which it can and should be. Thank you very much. (Applause)

Installation of Sultan of Perak XXXV, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah

May 7, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

Installation of Sultan of Perak XXXV, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah

Nazrin ShahCongratulations to the People of Perak Darul Ridzuan on the Occasion on the Installation of HRH Sultan of Perak, Tuanku Sultan Nazrin Muizzudddin Shah. I take the opportunity to wish the Royal Couple all the very best. May Duli Tuanku reign Perak with wisdom and vision. I have always enjoyed our conversations at the Kinokuniya Bookstore, KLCC in Kuala Lumpur. I would often ask HRH Sultan Nazrin for his recommendations on books I should read. The Harvard and Oxford educated Sultan is an intellectual with a passion for books across many fields of knowledge from history, politics and international affairs, to economics and the social sciences.–Din Merican

What is a Disgrace

May 5, 2015

Phnom Penh by the Mekong

What is a Disgrace


The Ministry of Rural and Regional Development will consider whether to appeal to the Southwark Crown court in London to reduce the sentence imposed on former Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA) loan student Nur Fitri Azmeer Nordin, 23.

Nur Fitri AzmeerIts Minister, Mohd Shafie Apdal said this when commenting on the London court’s decision to sentence Nur Fitri to five years in prison on 13 offences of possessing more than 30,000 pornographic images and videos of children.

“We can appeal (to reduce the length of the sentence), the problem is we are subjected to the prevailing laws of the country. We have to respect the laws that other countries practise,” he told reporters after attending the MARA programme with Rompin entrepreneurs in Kuala Rompin here, today.

According to British newspapers, the smart mathematics student at the Imperial College London was arrested during a raid at his home in Queensborough Terrace nearby Hyde Park on November 20 last year, while 600 category ‘A’ videos and images – defined by British authorities as ‘extreme form of child sexual abuse’ were seized.

MARA, who were reported to have sent Nur Fitri to London to further his studies last year, terminated the study loan upon his conviction on April 30.


The Education of young Malay Muslim Couples

May 4, 2015

Phnom Penh by The Mekong

The Education of young Malay Muslim Couples


A lot of young Malay couples get indoctrinated into their spousal roles the moment they get married.

obedient_wives_clubDedicated to Blog Reader Nora–A Good Muslim Woman

A popular prayer recited during the Malay solemnisation ceremony wishes that the couple will emulate the relationships of Adam and Hawa (Eve), Ibrahim (Abraham) and Hajar (Hagar), Yusuf (Joseph) and Zulaikha, and Muhammad and Aisyah. As it stands, none of them are particularly the best role models for a young couple in a modern world.

One fell in love with the other since she was the only female around at that time. Another left his wife and son stranded in the middle of the desert, only to attempt sacrificing his son years later. Another fell in love with the temptress wife of another man. The lesser said about the last the safer.

A Malay woman takes many vows after she is married. Among others, the husband now becomes her top priority, way above her parents. As for the husband, his number one priority is still his parents. Another vow is for the wife to never leave the house without the consent of the husband.

The message is simple, the husband is the master of the house. As for the wife, she is just a wife. For some, the indoctrination begins a bit earlier, during the pre-marriage courses that are mandatory for Muslims nationwide.

In theory, a pre-marriage course should benefit a Muslim couple. It gives essential education on the jurisprudence of marriage, and should it not work out, the divorce. The courses also offer advice on reproductive health, stress and financial management. But more often than not, these more important aspects are easily overlooked and reduced to rushed slides and presentations.

As for the rest, it would sometimes be nothing more than male religious teachers, or ustaz, telling adult jokes in order to keep students awake. At times, there will be lessons on how women are “different” from men in the way they think, and how a husband should handle his wife. For example, how to be strict with a wife who loves shopping so much until she wastes the alimony given to her.

These skewed gender roles are recycled every so often: Men are the breadwinners. Men are the more frugal ones. Men are good with money. Men spend their money wisely.Not women. They love shopping.

These course are so “effective”, that the federal Islamic authorities had even considered making another course, post-wedding, mandatory for Muslims due to the rising number of divorce cases. As soon as these youths get into their married lives, some would often get their marriage advice from of all people, popular religious clerics. After all, they see them so often, either on TV shows, or giving speeches in mosques, or on their social media accounts.

The abundance of questions on sex and intimacy being posed to the clerics, is just proof that many young couples are clueless not only of marriage, but their own spouse.

But why would they not be, when marriage is presented as a sweet dream, an end goal that must be reached as soon as possible? It’s a running joke that the top 10 bestselling Malay books will almost always be about a dream husband or wedding. It is almost the same with the Malay TV scene.

A reason behind this is mostly the cultural restriction behind pre-marital relationships. Portraying halal relationships in fiction is almost always safer than the forbidden ones. But at the same time, it provides a safe narrative to explore intimacy and sexual tension between the characters. Which ultimately resonates with young Malays, especially the girls, when such excitements are frowned upon publicly.

In the end, this has led to marriage being seen mostly as a way to obtain “halal” sex between boys and girls. Which leads to younger and younger couples getting married to seek a “morally-acceptable” sexual relationship.

Add to that the way clerics feel about how husbands should treat wives, and it is no surprise that many just cannot fathom that it is possible for a wife to cry rape against her husband.

Harussani and NajibThe attitude posed by religious clerics and Islamist groups in the renewed marital rape debate has been nothing but shocking. Instead of recognising the existence of marital rape, the Perak Mufti Harussani Zakaria (above) argued that it was just a “European invention.”

Razali Zakaria, a senior editor of Islamist group Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma), shifted the attention to other religion, accusing them of allowing sodomy. To Razali, Muslim men are masters of the bedroom who do not need to force their wives into sex as they can always marry more wives, or divorce any who refuse them sex.

But more shocking is how many young Malay men view wives as nothing more than property held by a man, and how some women submit to the same notion.

It is undeniable that men and women, husbands and wives, have different roles to play. But these roles should always put them on equal terms, complementing and completing each other. One should not be subservient to the other.

So it all comes down to this: What exactly are we teaching young couples, with the way we view marriage and our gender roles? What sort of men are we telling young husbands to be? And when these young husbands grow to be fathers, what then, will they teach their sons and daughters?